In the last part of our series about Evangelistic Apologetics we looked at this question – What part does Evangelistic Apologetics play in this spiritual battle?
We are asking and answering seven basic questions about our involvement in God’s purpose for His Church:
- Why has God placed ‘you’ in this spiritual battle?
- What’s at stake in this spiritual battle?
- Are you really involved in fighting in this spiritual battle?
- If not, why not?
- If so, how is the battle going for you?
- What part does Evangelistic Apologetics play in this spiritual battle?
- What part are you playing in Evangelistic Apologetics?
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
The Church has been under attack physically and spiritually since Jesus Christ began building it. Estimates of severe physical persecution of Christians today (e.g. loss of possessions and property, imprisonment, torture, bombings, killings) are as high as a quarter-of-a-billion Christians around the world. Christianity is illegal in many countries.
Open Doors USA estimates that every month, on average –
- 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons
- 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked
- 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned
‘Less’ severe persecution (e.g. social discrimination, loss of positions/jobs, denial of civil rights, loss or degradation of political/citizenship rights, incitement of hate, etc) are also on the rise and impacting hundreds of millions more Christians around the world.
If you’re reading this article from the United States, you probably are not experiencing severe persecution for being a Christian – but it’s coming. Look at what’s happening around the world in many countries where Christians used to have the freedom to worship and that freedom is slipping away or gone. If you think it can’t happen here, think again. It can and probably will.
Losing Freedom – Gaining Ground
Christ has not called His Church to function only in free societies. In fact, He has called Christians to grow strong during persecution. Why do I say strong? Because when we are weak, when we are challenged by the powers of this world, we become strong in the power of Christ. Here’s how the Apostle Paul explained it –
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
Our faith in God grows through persecutions and trials. That’s not a popular message, but it is apostolic. Again, the Apostle Paul –
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3-8
Of the seven churches Jesus dictated letters to the Apostle John in Revelation 2-3, one that received the Lord’s praise faced severe persecution.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: ‘I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11
The church in Philadelphia also received the Lord’s praise for standing strong in the face of great opposition.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, ‘He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens’: ‘I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:7-13
Where are Christians gaining ground in the world? Is it in countries where Christianity is legal? Where Christians are free to worship as they please without opposition or persecution? Do you think Christianity is growing fastest in countries where it is the majority religion – like the United States? The answer is NO. Christianity is growing fastest in countries where Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists are the majority. Is that because Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists want to help build Christian churches and support Christians in their ministry to preach the Gospel of Christ? Again the answer is NO. Christianity grows fastest when it faces persecution.
Look at some of the countries where Christianity is currently growing rapidly –
- Nepal is a majority Hindu country, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of almost 11%
- China is a majority non-religious country, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of almost 11%
- United Arab Emirates is majority Muslim, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of about 9.3%
- Saudi Arabia is majority Muslim, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of almost 9.3%
- Qatar is majority Muslim, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of about 7.8%
- Oman is majority Muslim, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of about 7.62%
- Yemen is majority Muslim, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of about 7.1%
- Mongolia is majority Buddhist, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of about 5.96%
- Cambodia is majority Buddhist, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of about 5.87%
- Bahrain is majority Muslim, but Christianity is growing at an annual rate of 5.49%
Most of the countries where Christianity is growing fastest are in Asia and Africa. 11 of the countries in the top 20 list are Muslim majority. Others are Buddhist, Hindu and non-religious. Eastern Asia, Western Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are where Christianity is growing fastest in our world today – not in the United States, not in Canada, not in Europe.
The rapid growth of Christianity in these countries is not because of birth rates in Christian families. It’s a combination of conversions of people to Christianity and immigration of Christians into those countries.
Jesus Christ offered His disciples a unique way of ‘growing’ the Church wherever they live, wherever they go –
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 2:8
The key is discipleship! Making disciples, teaching them, being witnesses to what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.
Change Coming to the USA?
Pew Research shows that Christianity in the United States is declining, while Islam is growing in number. Pew believes that Christianity will decline from 75% of the population in 2010 to 66% in 2050. Their research shows Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion by or before 2050. (The Future of World Religions, Pew Research, 2015)
One of the reasons for this is that Muslims have a higher fertility rate and are projected to increase by 73% worldwide by 2050. Christian growth will be slower – 35%. For the first time in history, the population of Christians and Muslims will be about the same (Christians – 31% .. Muslims – 30%). That’s based on current demographic trends continuing for the next 30 years. Pew Research shows that the Muslim population in the US is growing at a rate of about 100,000 per year because of the migration of Muslims from other countries along with the higher fertility rate among Muslim Americans.
Another reason is the conversion rates among Muslims and Christians. While a majority of people born into Muslim homes remain Muslims throughout their life, the number of people born into Christian homes who leave Christianity at a young age is high.
Pew Research estimates that while about 40 million people will convert to Christianity worldwide in the next 30 years, about 106 million people will leave Christianity during that same time period – most of them becoming religiously unaffiliated. That’s a net loss of 66 million Christians around the world in the next 30 years from ‘deconversion’. Muslims, on the other hand, are expected to have a net gain through conversions of more than three million worldwide during the next 30 years. Pew believes the combination of birth rates and conversion rates is a big reason why Muslims will become almost as numerous as Christians worldwide by 2050 and surpass Christians by 2070.
Is Persecution Inevitable?
The question before us is how all of the changes will impact Christianity in the United States. At what point will those changes lead to severe persecution of Christians? Christians in the U.S. have experienced a majority position for many years, but how long can that last?
Here is a graphic from Pew Research that shows some of the countries that had a Christian majority in 2010 that will be in the minority by 2050.
Countries That Will No Longer Have a Christian Majority in 2050
Notice that the United States is not on the list. That’s because Christianity, which had a religious majority of 75% in 2010, will still have a majority in 2050 – though it will drop to about 66%. If that trend continues, Christians could be a minority religion within a hundred years. Other religions, plus unaffiliated, would push Christianity out of the majority.
Would becoming a minority religion mean immediate persecution in the United States? Persecution is often a process rather than something that happens all at once. Many Christians in the U.S. are currently facing various levels of persecution, sometimes because of converting from another religion, sometimes because of their Christian ‘values’ and ‘positions’ on a variety of subjects (e.g. abortion, sexual orientation, same-sex marriage, gender issues).
We are already seeing religious persecution on many college campuses in the United States. Christians are often targeted for their beliefs and ridiculed for their values (e.g. called ‘haters,’ ‘bigots, ‘racists’).
Seeing persecution as something that happens to minorities and not majorities is to misunderstand what Jesus told His disciples:
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” John 15:19-21
Christians will be persecuted, not because of their majority or minority status, but because the world hates Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul shared this with Timothy –
“… all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3:12
Christians in the United States deal with persecution at a variety of levels. Christian teens are targeted as are college students. That’s when so many Christian young people walk away from Christianity. Those who get into their 20’s and 30’s without walking away are in a somewhat better position as far as being targeted, but it will happen as they speak up and stand up for Christian values and positions within their family, workplace and community.
The fact that Christianity in the U.S. is shrinking and may become a minority group within the next 100 years could lead to an increase in persecutions as other religious and non-religious groups are emboldened.
That leads us to you. What part are you playing in Evangelistic Apologetics? What part can you play in helping young Christians understand the powerful ‘reasons’ for being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. What can you do to reach more non-Christians with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We’ll dive into that subject when our special series Evangelistic Apologetics – The Church Under Attack continues next time.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.